GOP contenders say no court nominee for Obama
GREENVILLE, S.C. — Republican White House hopefuls called for President Barack Obama to step aside and allow his successor to nominate the next Supreme Court justice, as they opened a debate jolted by Saturday’s death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
Only Jeb Bush said Obama had “every right” to nominate a justice during his final year in office. The former Florida governor said there should be “consensus orientation on that nomination” — but added that he didn’t expect Obama would pick a candidate in that vain.
The five other candidates on the stage Saturday urged the Republican-led Senate to block any attempts by the president to get his third nominee on the court.
“It’s up to Mitch McConnell and everybody else to stop it,” Donald Trump said. “It’s called delay, delay, delay.”
Trump and Bush also tangled in some of the night’s most biting exchanges, highlighting the bad blood between the real estate mogul who leads the Republican field and the former Florida governor who was once expected to sail to the nomination. In a particularly heated confrontation, Trump accused Bush’s brother — former President George W. Bush — of having lied to the public about the Iraq war.
“Obviously the war in Iraq was a big fat mistake,” Trump said.
Bush, who has been among the most aggressive Republican candidates in taking on Trump, said that while he doesn’t mind the real estate mogul criticizing him — “It’s blood sport for him” — he is “sick and tired of him going after my family.”
Trump was jeered lustily by the audience in Greenville, South Carolina, a state where the Bush family is popular with Republicans. George W. Bush plans to campaign with his brother in Charleston Monday, making his first public foray into the 2016 race.
Just six contenders will take the debate stage, far from the long line of candidates who participated in earlier GOP events. Yet the Republican race remains deeply uncertain, with party elites still hoping that one of the more mainstream candidates will rise up to challenge Trump and Cruz. Many GOP leaders believe both would be unelectable in November.
Candidates used Scalia’s sudden death to raise the stakes for the general election.
Cruz cast the moment in stark terms, saying allowing another Obama nominee to be approved would amount to Republicans giving up control of the Supreme Court for a generation. An uncompromising conservative, Cruz urged voters to consider who among the GOP candidates would nominate the most ideologically pure justices.
Saturday’s debate came one week before South Carolina’s primary. Cruz and Trump emerged from the first two voting contests with a victory apiece and appear positioned to compete for a win in the first Southern primary.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich defended himself against attacks on his conservative credentials, particularly his decision to expand Medicaid in Ohio despite resistance from his GOP-led Legislature. Kasich argued that his decision was a good deal for the state in the long run.
“We want everyone to rise and we will make them personally responsible for the help they get,” said Kasich, whose fledgling campaign gained new life after a second-place finish in the New Hampshire primary.
Bush played the aggressor again, saying that Kasich’s actions amounted to “expanding Obamacare” — a deeply unpopular concept among Republicans.